8 years have passed, 3 presidents and this Honduran woman is still without asylum in the US.

(CNN) — On a summer night in Honduras in 2014, Maribel made a decision: leave her home, with her four young children in tow, or risk being killed. With her sights set on the United States, she undertook the perilous journey north, reaching the border between United States and Mexico. There he applied for asylum.

Almost eight years later, Maribel, who now lives in Maryland, is still waiting for the United States to decide if she can stay in the country or if she will be deported.

Maribel, whom CNN refers to by her middle name to protect her identity, is part of the more than 660,000 asylum seekers in the US immigration system who are still awaiting a response on their cases. This backlog of applications has bogged down the US immigration court system, leaving hundreds of thousands of people waiting years for their cases to be resolved.

“I was hoping for a change in this country, come on. But to this day I have not received it,” said Maribel.

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The asylum process continues to be delayed over the years

Since Maribel arrived, she has lived the terms of Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The delay has increased under each government. Indeed, the Biden administration is weighing plans to dismiss potentially thousands of cases in immigration court to try to ease the backlog judges face.

Esther Olavarria, a senior White House official, said last month that “basics are being established to identify non-priority immigration court cases that can be closed or administratively terminated.”

Immigration judges ––employees of the Department of Justice–– are in charge of following the policies established by each administration. And, ultimately, to decide the future of an immigrant in the United States. These judges face a judicial backlog that is almost equivalent to the size of the population of Philadelphiaaccording to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks immigration court data.

Last year, the backlog reached nearly 1.6 million cases, with applications rising fastest between October and December, it found. the organization. In other words, cases have piled up faster than judges can catch up. Which resulted in the largest increase recorded in the last quarter.

Mimi Tsankov, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, describes the situation as a “crisis.” “The Department of Justice has prioritized its enforcement functions over the immigration courts. The result is mismanagement, underfunding, and a gigantic and growing backlog” of asylum cases, told CNN recently.

For those caught in this situation, like Maribel, the wait can be excruciating. Also, it leaves immigrants vulnerable to Justice Department policy changes under different presidents that can throw their entire case into limbo.

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“I’d rather see you far away than dead”

Maribel fled Honduras with four of her children in 2014 to escape years of abuse, repeated rape and death threats from her former partner, who was a gang member, according to the statement filed with the court. She tried to seek protection from local authorities, but help never came, Maribel said.

“I was leaving behind my mom, my family. But the words I always remember are those of my mother who said to me one morning: ‘I’d rather see you far away than dead,’” Maribel said, her voice cracking as she recalled it.

A 2020 State Department report on conditions in Honduras recorded that a law criminalizing domestic violence “was not implemented effectively” and that the police did not process complaints in a timely manner. The report also cited organized crime groups, such as MS-13, for committing “murder, extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, and intimidation of police officers, prosecutors, journalists, women, and human rights defenders.”

“I asked for help in my country and they didn’t help me,” said Maribel.

Immigration courts have held that women in Central America facing domestic abuse qualify for asylum. But that abruptly changed when Trump took office, threatening Maribel’s case three years after she made her initial request.

Maribel had faced obstacles in court before. In 2016, an immigration judge in North Carolina, where Maribel lived at the time, denied her asylum claim, but the decision was later determined to be due to ineffective counsel, according to her current advocates, who filed a motion to reopen. the case.

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The change in asylum policy under the Trump administration

During the Trump administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had precedent-setting authority in a number of cases, changed a long-standing precedent and ruled that domestic violence was no longer grounds for asylum. What directly affected the case of Maribel.

By issuing such decisions, the Trump administration “significantly restricted” asylum, according to the Migration Policy Institute. He especially limited asylum based on membership in a particular social group, which forms the basis of a large part of the applications filed by Central Americans, according to the nonpartisan group.

The North Carolina immigration judge issued a second denial, arguing that in light of the change made under Trump, Maribel’s claim no longer met the asylum requirements, according to his ruling.

Maribel’s case is the aftermath of what has routinely become a lengthy process for the thousands of immigrants seeking refuge in the United States.

“It’s very easy for people’s lives to change and swing from one side of the pendulum to the other based on a decision by the attorney general,” said Leidy Pérez-Davis, policy director for the Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project. , which represents Maribel.

“She still has no protection from deportation and no protection from being sent back into danger, possibly death, because of this long, drawn-out process,” Pérez Davis said. “She is getting stuck at every point in the process.”

Under the Biden administration, the Justice Department reversed Sessions’ ruling that set a very high bar for crime victims to qualify for asylum, requiring victims to show that their home country was unable or unwilling to help them and that “the government condoned private actions”.

Maribel’s attorneys appealed the denial of the application and are still awaiting a decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals, which has to decide whether to return the case to immigration court due to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s reversal.

Last week, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California introduced legislation to reform the US immigration court system, including separating the Justice Department to establish an independent immigration court free from political influence.

“I still have faith in my asylum,” said Maribel. “I’m still waiting”.

— CNN’s Maria Santana contributed to this report.

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